Learn how sleep impacts your performance

You know that feeling: When you’re dragging from not getting enough sleep. But do you know how many ways lack of sleep can affect how well you think, do your job, choose your meals, remember details, and relate to your friends and family? Use this infographic to learn how sleep can impact your performance and learn the best strategies to overcome sleep debt.

Learn more at our “Get into Fighting Weight” guide.


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The amount and quality of sleep you get impacts your performance at school, home, work, and if you're a Warfighter, during missions. Learn the facts about sleep to help you manage "sleep debt," and set yourself up for success, day and night.

  • SLEEP NEED: Most people, including Warfighters, need 7-8 hours of sleep to function optimally. Less sleep = decreased performance quality.
  • DEPLOYED WARFIGHTERS: Service Members away from home report getting only about 5–6 hours of sleep per 24 hours due to night operations and poor sleep environments.
  • BRAIN: In order to recover and perform complex mental operations needed for successful military operations, sleep is essential.
  • SLEEP DEBT: If you don't get 7–8 hours of sleep every 24 hours, you build up a sleep debt. The more debt you have, the more sleep it will take to pay it off.
  • PERFORMANCE: Mental performance—such as planning ahead, solving problems, managing change, assessing risk, acting appropriately and decisively under pressure, and  staying motivated—relies heavily on sleep.
  • MEMORY: When we sleep, our brain merges new information into our memory. A good night's sleep can help improve test scores.
  • SLEEP LOSS: Sleep loss reduces mental sharpness and agility. In some cases, it's similar to the effects of alcohol.
  • ACCIDENTS: Drowsy driving can lead to motor- vehicle accidents, and related injuries and fatalities.
  • NUTRITION: Lack of sleep causes changes to the brain and body that can lead to unwanted weight gain.
  • RELATIONSHIPS: Sleep loss can make it harder to understand others and accurately interpret emotions.
  • AFTER DEPLOYMENT: Some Warfighters report problems sleeping when they return home.



Best Strategies

  • ENVIRONMENT: Reduce noise and light, keep a comfortable temperature, and avoid cell phones and other devices at bedtime.
  • PRE-SLEEP ROUTINE: Unwind with a book or meditation about 1 hour before bed.
  • WAKE UP: Wake up at the same time every day, even on your days off.

Next Best

STRATEGIC NAPS: As long as you actually sleep during a nap, you can pay off your sleep debt. Naps of any duration are good. Sleep as long as you can, as often as you can, to avoid sleep debt. The known benefit of sleep far outweighs the small risk of impaired performance ("sleep inertia") that occurs 5–10 minutes upon awakening.

Naps at any time of the day or night are good—but it's easiest to fall (and stay) asleep for a nap:

  • Around your normal bedtime
  • Around your normal wake-up time
  • In the early afternoon

In a Pinch


Although it does not replace sleep, caffeine is an effective tool to temporarily maintain mental performance when you can’t get enough sleep.

Caffeine gum can reduce grogginess and can be used to maintain some aspects of cognitive performance during sleep deprivation.

Avoid These

  • ALCOHOL: Drinking alcohol before bedtime might make you feel drowsy, but it actually impairs sleep—and increases sleep debt.
  • EXCESS CAFFEINE: Consuming too much caffeine keeps you awake and disrupts sleep. Avoid drinks with caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine does not replace sleep.
  • SLEEP AIDS: Check with your doctor before using any over-the-counter sleep aids.

Published on: February 7, 2020

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